Booze blamed for rise in disorder assault

Housebreakings are down 20 per cent in the past year. Picture: TSPL
Housebreakings are down 20 per cent in the past year. Picture: TSPL
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SOARING levels of public disorder across the Capital have prompted calls for an urgent review of its licensing rules.

Complaints of disorder and antisocial behaviour between April and June this year were 256 up on the same period last year, according to new Police Scotland data, with reports of serious assault jumping from 56 to 70.

Opposition politicians today called for the entire city to hold an emergency debate following release of the figures, which come amid rare condemnation by police and health chiefs of a looser approach to licensing new premises in the city.

Official statistics seen previously by the Evening News revealed only one licence application was refused in 2012-13, while 67 were passed.

A recent decision to approve two new off-sales in Earl Grey Street, Tollcross, sparked particular fury, as senior police sources accused licensing chiefs of “blatantly ignoring” concerns over public safety.

But Councillor Eric Milligan, chairman of the city’s licensing board, has caused controversy by denying any link between the number of permitted premises and rates of public disorder.

Critics today said the police figures provided fresh evidence of the link between increased availability of alcohol and violence, and called for immediate public scrutiny of current arrangements.

Conservative councillor Jeremy Balfour said: “It is a debate we have to have as a city, not just on the licensing board or the council.

“We all want to create a cafe-style culture, but at the same time we have to be aware that alcohol is a very serious problem in Scotland and does lead to crime and to health problems.

“We do need to look carefully at the provision of pubs and clubs in particular. My view is there are enough pubs and clubs in the city centre and unless a good case can be made we don’t need any more of these, but that does not mean we should stop new retail shops setting up.”

The call was backed by Green councillor Chas Booth, a strong advocate of tougher licensing laws, who said: “These figures would appear to confirm what the police and health board gave consistently said, which is that increased availability of alcohol leads to more disorder.

“Put simply, the easier it is to get booze, the more likely we are to see assaults and antisocial behaviour.”

And he said it was important that the city’s licensing board looked carefully at evidence presented by the police and NHS.

“If the police and health board are telling us we should not grant a particular licence, we are mad not to listen to them,” he added.

But Cllr Milligan stressed all new licence applications were carefully considered in relation to factors such as over-provision.

“Increases in disorder and crime are not connected with how many bars and restaurants there are in the city – there are other reasons why too many people over-indulge in alcohol,” he said.

“You have to try to get the message across to people that they as individuals have got to take responsibility for their behaviour and it’s about how much alcohol they are consuming not about how many licensed premises there are.”

The Police Scotland data has revealed dramatic shifts in crime reports across the Capital across a number of key categories.

Detection of roadoffences such as speeding has plunged since the April-June period last year, prompting warnings that police are over-reliant on short-term “blitzes” to bring rates under control.

Overall speeding detections dropped from 897 to 266, while the number of recorded mobile phone and seat belt offences dropped from 773 to 292 and 630 to 188 respectively.

Former police officer Cameron Rose, now Tory member for Southside-Newington, said the statistics were cause for concern. “There must be a worry that reduced figures for seatbelts, speeding and mobile phones mean that the police are not sustaining their activity in this area,” he said.

“This is not necessarily anything to do with people increasing or decreasing the quality of their driving – this is a police activity-generated result. The police activity has dropped – there’s been no blitz in other words.”

Margaret Dekker, researcher and secretary at the Scottish Campaign Against Irresponsible Drivers, agreed and said: “I think we are over-reliant on blitzes. What we really need is a continuous monitor of what’s happening and a traffic force that’s out there to ensure that the roads are safe for all users.”

However, good progress is now being made on housebreakings after police launched a dedicated operation to crack down on burglars.

The data showed the number of actual and attempted thefts from domestic dwellings plunged from 444 to 352, and is down by a quarter on the average rate recorded over the past three to five years.

Cllr Rose welcomed the figures and said they provided some reassurance following criticism of officers over the decision to move away from dedicated anti-housebreaking teams and a collapse in clear-up rates to 17 per cent.

Rising levels of serious assault have been acknowledged by police chiefs, who stressed that the majority of incidents occur in the city centre and are linked to the night-time economy.

Highlighting a drop in the rate of violent crime, Chief Superintendent Mark Williams, pictured left, said: “Amidst that overall decrease we have reduced murder, attempted murder and other homicide by 62 per cent, robberies by 20 per cent and minor assaults by eight per cent.

“We acknowledge that there has been an increase in the number of recorded serious assaults compared with last year.

“This increase is largely down to a rise of incidents within private property, but the majority of serious assaults continue to take place in the city centre, linked to the nighttime economy.

“We continue to tackle serious assaults and disorder through dedicated Violence Reduction Units, and a change of shift pattern for response and community policing teams means that there are now more high-visibility patrols in the city centre at peak times over the weekend.”

Police will continue to work with the public and partners in an effort to reduce housebreakings further, he said, while local officers are set to focus on “educating road users”.

“In addition, campaigns to tackle issues such as drink and drug driving continue to operate throughout the year and across the city,” he added.

Pair go on stealing spree across Capital

TWO men are being hunted by police after going on a five-hour rampage around the Lothians.

A string of break-ins between 2.15am and 7.30am on Tuesday saw premises targeted in the Capital, Midlothian and

East Lothian.

The first incident took place at the Hugo Boss shop on Multrees Walk when an alarm was activated and while nothing was taken, two men on a white and red motorcycle were seen acting suspiciously in the area.

Ten minutes later, two men on a motorbike broke into the Zen Kitchen Chinese restaurant on Dundas Street and made off with bags containing cash.

A raid on Dalkeith Rugby Club at 2.50am saw four windows smashed, although nothing was stolen.

The Mercat Bar and Grill on Whitecraig Road, East Lothian, was then targeted, although again nothing was stolen before two men were spotted riding off on a motorbike.

Car keys, a camera and a rucksack were then stolen at 3.35am from a house in Stoneybank Drive, Musselburgh, before a Nissan Qashqai was taken from outside a neighbouring property after its garage was ransacked.

A green Triumph motorcycle was also taken from Polton Road in Loanhead, while a house was broken into in Moir Avenue, Musselburgh, during the spree. Detective Sergeant Dave Reilly

said: “It would appear

that the same two men have been responsible for a number of break-ins, attempted break-ins and thefts across Edinburgh, Midlothian and East Lothian.

“These incidents have resulted in high-value goods being taken and costly damage being sustained to a number of the properties.

“Anyone who remembers seeing any suspicious activity around these locations is asked to contact police immediately. Anyone who can help us trace the suspects, or who has information that can assist with our inquiries is also urged to come forward.”

Greater risk in carrying weapon

POLICE officers who carry guns on routine patrol are being put at extra risk, it was claimed today.

There have been cases in the United States where criminals confronted by the police have managed to get hold of an officer’s gun and then use it to shoot them.

Scotland’s Chief Constable Sir Stephen House is under pressure from politicians from across the party spectrum to end his policy of using armed police on routine patrols.

And today one former senior officer spelled out the danger which faced officers when they carried guns at all times.

He said: “They could find themselves in difficulty.

“The greatest danger is having armed officers attending unarmed incidents and his gun gets out of his control and the incident escalates.

“If there’s a street altercation – a lot of people rolling about in the road and they have to get in and separate them – there has to be a risk some drunk gets the gun from you.

“That happens commonly in the Unites States – officers lose control of their firearm and end up getting shot by their own gun.

“The more guns there are on the street the more risk there is.”

The former officer said the system in place before the creation of Police Scotland worked well.

He said: “There was a three-man armed response unit – a driver and two weapons-trained officers. The guns were kept in a secure box inside the vehicle and only drawn when they were sent to an armed incident.

“That meant the officers could be sent to any incident and did not have to take their guns; the driver stayed with the car and the guns were secure.

“But when they had to be deployed to an armed incident, they were able to get the arms quickly.

“That was the right answer – you had an armed response vehicle on the road but you didn’t have armed officers routinely attending unarmed incidents.”